How Disney Built Maleficent's Expansive Fantasy Kingdom

One thing Disney's Maleficent has going for it is a vast fantasy land constructed in a whole new Disney-verse called the Moors. And they got the world building expert, Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Life of Pi) to create it. Take a look into the creation of Maleficent's kingdom in our exclusive interview with the director.

Why did you want to make Maleficent, a movie about this amazing Disney villain?

Robert Stromberg: I think originally (when I read the script) the initial interest was the fun that we could sort of have—not only with sort of keeping the integrity of the psychotic character that we all know, but in exploring other layers of that. And perhaps answering some questions that the die hard fans might want to know about that character.

Was it always going to be Angelina Jolie? Was there ever anyone else? Were you in a room and people were like, "We gotta get Angelina Jolie?" Or was she already attached to the project? It's a great pairing.

She was already attached to the project when I came on board, which is great because I couldn't agree more that she was a perfect casting choice. She has wanted to do that character for a long time. There was a built in passion, and a sort of perfect iconic image that we would have. The important part, that I wasn't aware of yet, was that [Jolie] brought an emotional depth to it that mixed that with the perfect profile. The iconic image. And then you really had something.

How Disney Built Maleficent's Expansive Fantasy Kingdom

What went into the world building of the Moors [the fantasy land that Maleficent lived in]? How much did you think about the magic corners of this world, like how do the fairies work and how other things work? Did you name all the creatures?

I had done a few of these big, world building projects, and I wanted to do something that… To start, I looked at the Eyvind Earle work from the classic cartoon [and thought] "What can we do with this, how can we steer this in a place that would work?" We soon found out that it was just a bit too surreal for the emotional story we were trying to tell. It would be more distracting. What became important to me was to keep the essence of what that design was, that classic design. And just feel it in a more grounded, photo-real way. The very first thing we did was sort of plaster a room full of artwork and we would have not only actors, but department heads come in and out for inspiration.

Are any of the new creatures referencing Maleficent's little goblin horde in the original Disney film?

Yeah.. yeah. I did look at those little minions and goblins and things. We decided to not completely imitate that, but to create some new fun characters. There was a joy in that part of it, just the character design. The creatures, some of them had to look menacing and others looked like you wanted to hug them.

How Disney Built Maleficent's Expansive Fantasy Kingdom

Did you name all of the creatures? And if so could you list off some of the names?

Ah let's see. The little toad-like guys, the cute guys that have mud fights a lot those are called Waller Bogs. There are these little bird-like, owl creatures those those are called Cheeps.

How Disney Built Maleficent's Expansive Fantasy Kingdom

The flying bird fish things that floated, those were very pretty.

Yes, those were actually named by my daughter.

Thats really sweet. What about the ones with the really high pitched voices?

Let's see… we had the Dew Fairies which were the blue ladies.

How Disney Built Maleficent's Expansive Fantasy Kingdom

Let's talk about the design of her horns and wings. The horns were spectacular. Where did you get the idea that Maleficent's headdress wasn't really a headdress but was actually horns?

When we met very early on, right after I joined the project, I went over to Rick Baker's studio and experimented with many different horn shapes. And different intensities of cheekbone prosthetics. And many, many different types of contact lenses. [Baker] was trying many different types of horn shapes up against what the wing shape would be. It was very important to me that everything had a symmetry to it and that all the lines would flow from it. There was lots of playing around with different shapes and colors until we found the right combination.

[Small Spoiler] You turn the crow from the original Disney cartoon into a human [on and off]. He's played by Sam Riley—I really enjoyed him. Where did you come up with the idea to humanize Maleficent's pet crow?

Yeah we had many conversations with Linda Wolvertoon the writer; it was important. And he evolved into being such an important character because he, in essence, became her conscience. The character that we could use to steer her, perhaps, in a weird way like a Jiminy Cricket conscience, and steer her back onto the right path. He's someone who is looking out for her. It's also valuable in explaining things, and her intentions. Sam Riley, I just saw an audition tape, and I thought this guy was great. He came in and everyone loved him. It ended up being a really important character to who she becomes.

Yeah, he can actually stand on his own with Angelina which was cool to see.

And I kind of liked that she sort of messes with him a little bit.